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Attorney General files motion in opposition of plan to expand marina in Block Island's Great Salt Pond

Opposition filed with R.I. Supreme Court argues that marina expansion agreement is invalid

PROVIDENCE, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that his office has filed a memorandum in the Rhode Island Supreme Court in opposition to a motion to accept a proposed agreement that would allow for the expansion of a marina in Block Island's Great Salt Pond. In the papers filed yesterday, the Attorney General further detailed why a proposed agreement between the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and Champlin's Realty Associates is invalid and why the Court should not approve the agreement.

"As we have said since we first petitioned to intervene in this matter, this Office has a constitutional and common law obligation to protect the public interest, our environment, and our shared natural resources. It is our job to intervene to protect the public interest, and we remain concerned that proper procedures were not followed here" said Attorney General Neronha. "Any resolution of this matter will have a lasting impact on the natural resources of Block Island. It is critical that agencies' final decisions are visible and accessible, and any facts the agency relied on to support its decisions are clear."

The Attorney General filed a petition to intervene in the matter on February 8, 2021. The R.I. Supreme Court granted the Attorney General's motion to intervene on February 12, 2021.

As detailed in the court filing, the Attorney General argues that the expansion agreement between the CRMC and Champlin's is inappropriate and invalid. Further, the agreement between the CRMC and Champlin's cannot be considered a valid agency order and therefore the Court cannot accept it as a final resolution of the matter.

Recent developments

Citing the Office's responsibility to protect the public's interests and the State's public trust resources, the Attorney General intervened on the grounds that the settlement agreement by the CRMC and Champlin's was formed outside of the public regulatory process and does not account for the factual findings that formed the basis for the CRMC's 2011 decision denying Champlin's application to expand.

The recently developed plan, referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was filed by CRMC and Champlin's with the Court on January 8, 2021. The Town of New Shoreham and other parties who have been involved in challenging Champlin's application over the past 17 years were not included in the settlement discussions where the MOU was developed. The MOU was adopted by the CRMC in an executive session, which means it was not open to the public.

Marina expansion background

Champlin's first sought approval from the CRMC to expand its marina into Block Island's Great Salt Pond in 2003. In 2006, the CRMC denied the application, following a subcommittee recommendation and a full council vote and decision. Champlin's appealed the CRMC's decision, which traveled all the way up to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In 2011, after additional hearings and the receipt of more evidence in the record, the CRMC again voted to deny Champlin's application for the marina expansion.

Champlin's appealed the decision to the Superior Court and, in February 2020, the Court upheld CRMC's decision to deny Champlin's application. Following that ruling, Champlin's filed a writ of certiorari in October 2020, asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the lower court's decision. The Rhode Island Supreme Court granted certiorari and now has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter.

On January 8, 2021, the CRMC and Champlin's filed a joint motion with the Rhode Island Supreme Court to approve the MOU, which was reached after off-the-record negotiations, and incorporate it in an order of the Court.

Environment and Energy Unit Chief and Special Assistant Attorney General Tricia K. Jedele and Special Assistant Attorney General Alison B. Hoffman are counsel for the Attorney General on this matter.

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